Tongues and 1 Corinthians 14

I’m preaching on this passage at Grace on August 15 so I’ve been reading and re-reading and studying a lot. I’m realizing that the view of tongues I’ve held for a long time isn’t the most likely one. So with any change like this, I’m running it be lots of people. Reading the Bible in the community of faith is so important. The more diverse the community, the more likely getting past the mistakes of one.

So I start with the purpose of tongues. Acts 2:11 says they were declaring the wonders of God. I’d taken that as evangelistic, but on reflection and comparison with 1 Cor. I’m thinking it is praise. Greg Haslam, Pastor of Westminster Chapel in London and one of the men on the Grand Canyon trip, was the one who raised this possibility in our intense discussions.

1 Cor. 14 adds these points:

Tongues are to God by the Spirit (2, 28) where prophecy is to other people. That direction is so obvious. I don’t know how I missed it up to now.

Tongues are a language with informational content, not ecstatic babbling as with pagans. This is very clear in Acts 2 but also in his reference in verse 10-11. There is much debate about whether it is human languages or if it can include language of angels. That seems an open handed issue right now. 

Tongues edify the speaker (4, 28) where prophecy edify the congregation. I’d always taken that as dismissive of tongues, but I think I was wrong on that. Lots of things build me and it’s good. Col. 2:5, 8 say put off sin and 3:12 says put on fruit of the Spirit. That edifies me so I can be more Christlike and a better member of the community. The error would be self-indulgence, something the Corinthians and not a few Americans are into (!!). Building myself is very good if it helps me be a better Jesus follower.

Paul is quite positive about tongues, just not in the public gathering of the church. I’m not sure how I missed his statement that he would like everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). Yes, prophecy is much preferred in the gathering but that does not mean tongues have no place. He is quite clear that he speaks in tongues a lot (14:18), but not on the gathering. That’s the place for prophecy to strengthen, encourage, comfort, edify, instruct (3,4, 26, 31).

Tongues are for prayer (14:14) from the heart. Of course there is also prayer with the mind, i.e., in a known language. Both are good in their proper place, it seems. Some prefer spirit prayer while others prefer mind prayer. Neither is a higher spirituality, it seems. I think Romans 8:26 speaks to this when it says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” So the graonings there are the Spirit at work helping us when our mind and understanding fail us and we don’t know how to pray. That groaning certainly could come out of my mouth, I think.

Tongues are for praise (14:16) just as they are in Acts 2:11 and 10:46. That isn’t helpful for the congregation unless it is interpreted or explained as Peter did in Acts 2.

In the gathering Paul does not speak in tongues though he does speak a lot, evidently in his private devotions. Where the Corinthians were seeing their public use of tongues as a mark of their high spirituality. Paul shows them that it is a sign, but a sign of God’s judgment on their prideful self-indulgence! Hearing Babylonian in the streets of Jerusalem in 586 BC was a sign that God’s judgment had come to sinful Judah (he quotes Isaiah 28:11 a statement of His judgment in 14:21). Similarly, it is not a blessable thing if unbelievers hear all the confusion of public tongues and walk away thinking the people and their God is crazy.

So I’m thinking tongues is private prayer and praise to God in an unknown language.

That’s what I’m thinking in outline. I’d love to get input!

Floating down the Grand Canyon

Floating down the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was so far beyond any possibility that it didn’t even make my bucket list. But it was real, thanks to the Christian Leaders’ Trip sponsored by Answers in Genesis. We started at Lee’s Ferry just below the Glen Canyon Bridge and spent six days on the river and five nights camping in the sand. 186 miles later, we went out to the rim world by helicopter, a trip highlighted by a much anticipated shower (!!). I put quite a few pictures here.  Brian Morley, a professional photographer posing as a Master’s Seminary philosophy prof is putting his pictures here.

Seeing the boats that would take us down the river as we drove down to riverside was almost too much to handle. In God’s grace, I had bars on my cell phone so I tried to share some of it with Sherry before we took off for total isolation. I got a little more excitement than I bargained for. As I started to put the phone away into the plastic bag that also had my wallet there was no baggie. It was gone! Dropped in the bus? Probably, but it had already left. Panic! No wallet meant no ID and no exit from the canyon! As I reported my predicament to the leaders (with no small embarrassment!) another team member walked up with the missing baggie. He had found it, dropped onto the ground. Whew!!

We immediately had our first teaching hike, seeing a petrified log. Andrew Snelling, our geologist, helped us see that the sedimentation that led to fossilization had to be fast or the higher parts of the log would have rotted. Even more convincing is the fact that branches of the tree are in a completely different layer than the trunk. There were many stops along the river and hikes for on site lecture.

It certainly wasn’t all study! The meals were great. Made to order omelets one breakfast and blueberry pancakes another. Dessert one night was strawberry cheesecake and our final supper was bar-b-qued steaks. A highlight for me was the intense conversations about Bible and life as we floated. I got a two day intensive on Spirit renewal from Greg Haslam, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. Mark, Evan and Seth and I talked about mentoring, creation ethics, and spiritual formation. I talked of Genesis 1 as the story of the LORD, who created sun, moon, stars, plants, animals and everything else, shaping Eden/Israel for a place for Him to live with Adam and Eve, the first humans. Conversations went on into the dark and started again at first light, even before the “Coffee!!” call. That wasn’t too hard to ignore. Cowboy coffee isn’t quite what this Portlander looks forward to in the morning.

One fun part of the trip was hiking up canyons to picturesque water falls. But we didn’t just look and take pictures! God provides showers for tired professor/students! Some of the funnest things were climbing to the top of water falls and jumping into the pools below. But running the rapids of the Little Colorado with nothing but a life jacket wrapped around my hips was incredible – and a bit nerve wracking as I bounced off huge boulders and got sucked under water longer than I was ready for! (Brian has a picture of our human chain here. I was in the 24 member world record chain!).






There are many lessons and thoughts that come after an experience like this. Some profound ones like “wearing shorts means your legs get scratched up.” Isolation is unusual for  me. This is the
first time in all my travels that I’ve not communicated with Sherry on a daily basis. There was profound worship that comes in the context of such a marvelously beautiful piece of the earth. Reading Psalm 104 took on a whole different flavor in the bottom of the Canyon. But one thing that hit us all is the reality of God’s judgment on sin. Thousands of feet of sediments laid down in God’s work to rid the earth of wickedness, layers filled with fossil remains of living beings, a huge graveyard. I work to overcome sin with the grace of the LORD who came to die for sin. I am always humbled by His grace in doing that. But this reminded me of the future of those who will not respond to His grace, refusing to receive His life. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16 ESV)